קסניה בולבה
Ksenia Bulavia
Photo: Courtesy
Celebrating Noviy God with friends

Some Israelis celebrate Noviy God, so what?

Opinion: The holiday celebrated by the Russian-speaking community is often met with hostility in Israel due to its aesthetic similarity with Christmas; while the misunderstanding is forgivable, the intolerance is not

Ksenia Bulavia |
Published: 12.29.20 , 11:57
As a little girl and a new immigrant from Russia, my existential goal in Israel was to prove I was a true Israeli.
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  • That goal, however, was tested in December each year when my parents put up a decorated, brightly lit spruce tree in our living room in celebration of Noviy God - the Russian phrase for New Year that also designates the Russian New Year's Eve and New Year's Day celebration.
    קסניה בולבה קסניה בולבה
    Celebrating Noviy God with friends
    (Photo: Courtesy)
    To this day there is a certain confusion among the Israeli public surrounding the tradition of putting up the decorated spruce trees, their significance and the holidays they represent.
    Those at fault for this confusion are two prominent figures in Soviet Russia: Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin.
    Why? Because with the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, religious celebrations of any kind were banned in the Russian Empire and the later-established Soviet Union.
    And while religion was not banned outright, the government strove to create an “enlightened" society far removed from the Church.
    The only survivors of the revolution were civil holidays, which celebrated the glory of the state, including Noviy God.
    After a few years, the communist government agreed for Noviy God to be celebrated in a more festive manner compared to other civil holidays, with the regime even declaring the New Year's Day as an official state holiday allowing a day off work.
    קסניה בולבה קסניה בולבה
    The writer as a child
    (Photo: Courtesy)
    The Soviet public - most of whom were Christians - chose to signify the holiday in the best way they knew how, by putting up decorated spruce trees in their homes and in public spaces.
    And while the custom was derived from Christmas, its essence was completely different and this distinction is really important.
    Even the good old Santa Clause in its Soviet variation found himself donning a blue rope instead of his usual red and switching his identity to "Ded Moroz," translated as Father Frost.
    נובי גודנובי גוד
    Ded Moroz and the Snow Maiden
    Thus, Noviy God became the most beloved holiday among the people of the USSR. A warm day surrounded by loved ones, where one can forget life under an oppressive communist regime, with drinks and festive customs.
    The holiday was adopted by the entire Soviet public, no matter their religion, even Russian Jews, who brought the customs of celebrating Noviy God with them, when they came to Israel.
    About a year ago, a petition was submitted that called for a certain mall in the country to remove its “Christian” Noviy God decorations, because “it trumps the feelings of the Jewish shoppers in order to appease those who came from the Soviet Union.”
    This is unacceptable. While the failure to distinguish between the two holidays is forgivable, the intolerance is not. The truth is, Noviy God was always met with a certain degree of hostility and disrespect in Israel, as if we invented a holiday just to tick everybody else off.
    Noviy God decorations at Tel Aviv's Central Bus Station Noviy God decorations at Tel Aviv's Central Bus Station
    Noviy God decorations at Tel Aviv's Central Bus Station
    The rampant disregard for our holiday comes in all forms: from children being berated by their classmates for celebrating Noviy God at home, to teachers who schedule important tests on January 1, to employers who scoff staff members who ask for a day off in honor of the holiday.
    Noviy God is important to a large part of Israel's society and since it celebrates the beginning of a civil new year, it's actually a holiday for all Israelis, no matter the background.
    So, every December a decorated spruce tree shows up in our living room, we gather to drink champagne, eat and watch Russian television. This is how we celebrate the beginning of the new year, the new civil year.
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